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COTA: Get out of town ... but click first

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Jim Cota

Here in Indiana, it’s December. Which means it’s cold, gray and wet outside. Naturally, our minds begin to turn toward warmer climes and distant shores. Or maybe just Fort Myers.

Either way, winter in Indiana is a great reason to travel.

By now, you’re probably adept at using the bevy of travel sites available online. There’s Expedia (www.expedia.com) and Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) and Kayak (www.kayak.com) to help you find the best price for hotels and cars and flights. But if you’ve ever purchased from any of them, you may have experienced the buyer’s remorse that goes along with it. “Is this the best price I can get? What if it goes lower? How much was it yesterday?”

With these questions swirling around in your head, simply hitting the “Confirm Purchase” button can be a test of will.

There are several strategies to help alleviate these feelings, but the most palatable is the one where you just keep checking prices up to the point where you simply have to buy.

Instead, wouldn’t it be great to have a personal travel assistant? Well, yes, it would, and that’s exactly what Yapta (www.yapta.com) is. (In fact, “yapta” stands for “your amazing personal travel assistant.”)

Airline prices and hotel rates are highly volatile, as a function of the automated supply and demand systems that have been designed to maximize revenue. Yapta offsets this problem by checking prices for you on a daily basis and alerting you when the price changes. By helping you evaluate the purchase prices, Yapta provides a gauge so you can buy with confidence, knowing you’ve gotten the best price available. And even if you’ve already booked the airline ticket, Yapta can still help you save through the little-known “guaranteed airfare” policies in place at most airlines. If the price drops after you purchase, most airlines allow you to claim a travel credit for the difference.

Does it work? Since it launched in May 2007, Yapta officials claim they’ve alerted hundreds of thousands of travelers to more than $150 million in travel savings. Not bad.

Once you’ve decided how you are getting there, it’s time to find out where to stay. Most of the standard travel sites offer descriptions and pictures of hotels, but it can be difficult to know what (and whom) to trust. I’ve often used Travel Advisor (www.traveladvisor.com) to get some hands-on reviews from other travelers, but even some of those can be suspect. I’ve been happier with Oyster (www.oyster.com).

Oyster isn’t crowd-sourced like other sites. Instead, its reviews are written by a staff of reporters who visit the hotels anonymously. And since they don’t allow reporters to accept free lodging or services, the reporters present the facts in an unbiased, professional manner. 

These reviews are extensive: It’s not uncommon to find them topping out at more than 3,000 words. They go in-depth on a variety of topics, including the ambience, reservations, cleanliness, family-friendliness, service, and several others. They also provide extensive photo libraries to help you see exactly what the property looks like before you get there. In fact, one of the more entertaining and informative sections of the site, “Photo Fakeouts,” shows altered marketing photos next to the spots as they appeared when an Oyster reporter was there. It’s a little sobering to see how some of these pics are doctored, especially considering that the reviews are focused on some of the finer luxury hotels in the world. So far, it has reviews of 720 properties in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City, San Francisco and throughout the Caribbean.

Finally, after you’ve booked the flight with the best value and checked into the prime location near the beach, double your pleasure by sending envy-inducing postcards to all your friends. Going down to the gift shop, buying a card, writing something pithy, then finding a stamp and a mailbox is too much of a hassle. But there’s an iPhone app for that, too. Several of them, in fact.

Personally, I’ve found Postino (www.angurialab.com/) to be the best, but Hazelmail (www.hazelmail.com) is also well-regarded. Either will work with photos you take using the built-in camera or one that is in your photo library. Simply crop and arrange the photo you like, choose a nice motif, write your message, and select the recipient from your address book. The application will send the entire message to their printing service and print an actual physical postcard which they’ll then mail on your behalf. In a few days, your workmates will find a surprise in their mailbox without your ever having to leave the poolside chaise lounge. You’ll get the credit for being thoughtful (or spiteful) while working on your tan.•

__________

Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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  1. A couple of issues need some clarification especially since my name was on the list. I am not sure how this information was obtained and from where. For me, the amount was incorrect to begin with and the money does not come to me personally. I am guessing that the names listed are the Principal Investigators (individual responsible for the conduct of the trail) for the different pharmaceutical trials and not the entity which receives the checks. In my case, I participate in Phase II and Phase III trials which are required for new drug development. Your article should differentiate the amount of money received for consulting, for speaking fees, and for conduct of a clinical trial for new drug development. The lumping of all of these categories may give the reader a false impression of physicians just trying to get rich. The Sunshine Law may help to differentiate these categories in the future. The public should be aware that the Clinical Trial Industry could be a real economic driver for Indiana since these revenues supports jobs and new job creation. Nationally, this account for 10-20 billion which our State is missing out on to a large degree. Yes, new drug and technology development has gotten most of the attention (e.g. CTSI, BioCrossroads, etc.) However, serious money is being left on the table by not participating in the clinical trials to get those new drugs and medical devices on the market!!!! I guess that this is not sexy enough for academia.

  2. The address given for the Goldfish Swim Club is the Ace Hardware, is it closing?

  3. Out of state management and ownership. If Kite controlled it, everything would be leased. Of course, due to the roundabout, there is limited access to the south side of 116th now also. Just have to go down to the light.

  4. Hey smudge, You're opposed to arresting people for minor crimes? Sounds great! We should only focus on murders and such, right? Let's stand around and wait until someone shoots someone before we act. Whatever we do, we should never question anyone, frisk anyone, or arrest anyone unless they are actively engaged in shooting or stabbing. Very sound!

  5. You guys are being really rude to gays in the comments. (Not all of you, I presume). You need to stop it. Gays have just as much of a right to marry as straight people do. It's not fair how you guys are denying them equal rights. They're acting more human than you'll ever be. We obviously haven't matured since the bible was last updated. Hate the sin, not the sinner. You've all committed a sin at least once in your life. You've lied, you've stolen, etc. (Those are just possibilities). We should have a planet for people that support gay rights and a planet for people that don't. Then, gay people could get married without you bigots interfering with their love life. How would you feel if straights couldn't get married? How would you feel if teenagers were afraid to come out to their parents as straight? If straight people got hate everywhere they went? If straight people were afraid to go out in public, because they feared being judged? It's never going to happen at the rate society is going. You haven't seen the side of me where I act obscene. You're glad my inner demon hasn't been released. I would, but oh no, my comment would be removed because of my very strong emotions about this subject. I love gays, and love how they show their affection for each other. I just ADORE how a state is going to give same-sex couples a marriage license, then changes their mind. (I was obviously being sarcastic there). I just LOVE how society thinks gays are an abomination to our society. You're caring about marriage between two men or two women. That's a small thing. Just grow up, and let them marry. Let them live their lives. You can't make them change their sexuality. You can't make them change their lifestyle. In my opinion, gays are more than welcome to marry. Please, grow up and realize that people should be allowed to marry, even if it's same-sex marriage. You guys are saying that "the bible said gay marriage is wrong." Well, guess what else is wrong? Read Matthew:7 and you'll find out. (I am in no way breaking that. I am saying a fact). I'm stating that gays have just as much of a right to marry as straights do. (:

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